Inside Australia’s greatest escape
TONY Mokbel is plotting his second great escape, more than a decade after he posed as a bloke from Bondi named Stephen Papas and pulled off one of Australia's biggest breakaways.
From inside his cell at Barwon Prison, Australia's most notorious drug trafficker is at the centre of an unprecedented scandal that could see him walk free.
Fat Tony, who is not so fat anymore, is mounting a legal challenge to overturn his 30-year sentence on the grounds that his lawyer turned on him and told secrets to police.
He and a number of Melbourne gangland figures will have their cases heard in court after the lawyer, who cannot be named, was revealed as a paid informer.
Informer 3838, otherwise known by the pseudonym Lawyer X, was allegedly paid compensation of $2.9 million after she turned over information given to her by high-profile criminals in confidence.
The information was allegedly used by police to mount their case but the High Court said that was a step too far. A royal commission will delve deeper at the beginning of next year.
The extraordinary turn of events comes 12 years after Mokbel made headlines around the world when he was arrested wearing a bad wig in Athens, having pulled off a remarkable escape while seemingly under the microscope of Victoria's top cops.
This is how he did it...
LONG WALKS IN REGIONAL VICTORIA
When Mokbel presented at the South Melbourne Police Station at 5pm on March 19, 2006, he was doing exactly what he was supposed to do as part of conditions applied to his $1 million bail.
He was co-operating, police thought. Then, suddenly, he was gone.
Mokbel, the so-called "Principal" of Melbourne drug empire The Company, had his bags packed and he fled. His escape was later detailed in court.
He didn't board a plane or drive interstate. Instead, he used a contact who owed him money to sneak him into Lot 671, Dry Gully Road, Bonnie Doon.
The property, 168km northeast of Melbourne, included a weatherboard farmhouse, a shed with a tractor and plenty of space for Mokbel to hide.
He stayed there for seven months, plotting his next step. While police circulated his picture at airports and alerted authorities abroad, assuming the former dishwasher and pizza shop owner had long since found a home overseas, Mokbel was getting everything together.
He posed for passport photos in a thick, black wig and acquired a passport and driver's licence under the name Stephen Papas. Mr Papas lived in Albion St, Bondi, nowhere near the Melbourne drug scene Mokbel was leaving behind.
With help from the his friend at Bonnie Doon, a man named George Elias, Mokbel bought a luxury yacht. It wasn't so big that authorities would be suspicious, but it was capable of getting him to where he needed to go.
The 18-foot "Edwena" cost Mokbel a little over $300,000 but it needed some work. While he waited, he walked, plotting what longtime crime writer John Silvester called "an international escape of spy novel proportions".
According to Silvester, who wrote about the escape for The Age, Mokbel and an associate rented a four-wheel-drive from Budget in Melbourne's northern suburbs and started a drive from Victoria to Western Australia.
It was October 18, 2006, and Mokbel, joined by Elias, travelled across the country to Fremantle where "Edwena" - fitted with all the modern comforts to which Mokbel had become accustomed - was waiting.
They arrived four days later and on November 11 set said from Fremantle Sailing Club towards the Mediterranean.
LIVING THE HIGH LIFE IN GLYFADA
Mokbel hid in Athens, in an expensive home, in an expensive coastal suburb called Glyfada. He was joined by his partner Danielle McGuire and the couple's young daughter.
He didn't lie low.
From Athens, Mokbel continued to run The Company, raking in profits while police raised the stakes by offering a reward of $1 million.
Then Deputy Police Commissioner Simon Overland said at the time he hoped an associate might turn on him.
"We've got no doubt there are people out there who know where he is, who are probably in regular contact with him," Mr Overland said.
"Every time he now contacts those individuals, there are going to be huge seeds of doubt in his mind. 'Is this the person who's going to sell me out?'"
Police from the gangland taskforce Purana were narrowing their search to Greece's coastal suburbs and in June, 2007, spotted a man that looked like Mokbel in a coffee shop.
On him, he had the wig, the fake passport and the fake driver's licence.
The extradition process was expedited and Mokbel faced the judges he was fleeing in Melbourne.
At a pre-sentence hearing, the court heard Mokbel told a psychologist he was a reformed man.
"Dealing in drugs was definitely wrong," Mokbel had said. "It causes damage to a lot of people, creates headaches and violence in people's lives. It puts good people in awful places … kids in vulnerable positions."
For his part in Melbourne's drug scene, he would be sentenced to 30 years in prison. George Elias was later sentenced to 11 years for his part in helping Mokbel flee.
THE LETTER THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Inside his cell at Barwon Prison, Mokbel received a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions that changed everything. It read:
(The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission) produced a confidential report last year, relating to the use by Victoria Police of a certain legal practitioner (to whom I will refer as '3838') as a registered human source - that is, a police informer.
The matter that I wish to disclose to you is that the material contained in the report could be interpreted to mean that at or about a time when 3838 was your legal representative in relation to charges for which you were later convicted, 3838 was also providing information to Victoria Police about you, in possible breach of legal professional privilege and/or in breach of a duty of confidentiality.
The same letter was sent to a number of convicted criminals who had Informer 3838 as their lawyer.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton faced tough questions after the use of the lawyer-turned-informer was made public last week following the lifting of suppression orders.
But he played down the scandal.
"Over the preceding 12 months, numerous people had been murdered, some in very public locations and high-profile criminals were vying for control of drug operations that were inflicting serious harm on the Victorian community. It was accordingly a desperate and dangerous time," Mr Ashton said.
It's yet to be seen whether the use of Informer 3838 will set Mokbel free. If it does, it'll be the second time he's made a miraculous escape.